I’d been driving through the vast nothingness of Wyoming’s winterscape for hours when my peripheral vision caught sight of an abnormality in the fence line. I turned my head just in time to catch a glimpse of the tangled hooves as I passed by.
Bringing the pickup to a stop and getting it turned around on the negative-traction slick took miles—I was riding mostly on momentum, the tires all but hovering on top of the compacted ice.
Had the wind and ice conspired against me and caused me to slide off of the asphalt into the deep, hard-crusted snow drifts that lined the two lanes, I would’ve been SOL. I was hours away from any sort of cell coverage, who knows how far I was from anything that could be described as, “Help.”
In a worst case scenario, there were scattered ranch outbuildings in the area that I could’ve walked to. Perhaps I could’ve found a working landline in one of them, or even stumbled into a ranch hand that would’ve been willing to help in some capacity—
—regardless, that wasn’t a situation I wanted to find myself in.
But, I owed the animal the effort; I owed it the risk—which was trivial in comparison to the risks we’d put on its own life.
My initial motivation to get back to the scene was to confirm that the animal was dead—that it wasn’t hung up, exhausted, nostrils flared, eyes widened: terrified and suffering.
We’d put the wire there, we’d put the highway there—we’d caused this. The least I could do was get my ass back up the road to oblige it a swift mercy killing: deliverance.
Needless to say, once I’d gotten the truck close to the scene and started walking, it didn’t take long to confirm that the buck was dead.
My stomach sank and my heart ached as I took in the gruesome sight. Something beyond my consciousness awoke in me to mourn for the animal…
…I was drawn nearer.
I paid little mind to the gore. It was the buck’s spirit that made me continue on, it was his disturbed essence; his exhausted, black eyes. My senses heightened as I stood quietly near him, I could feel the remnants of his terror, of the scene’s bad energy.
I stood quietly, trying to give goodness back to the buck—trying to find his spirit through my own; attempting to bring peace to the bad energy.
I tried to wish him a peaceful journey; to tell him that I’m sorry for all that my kind has done; for warping nature, for molesting his home.
I’m sorry. I hope you find more peace where you’re going than we’ve allowed you here.
I walked all around the buck. I studied him.
I did not wish to do him the injustice of averting my eyes, of allowing superficial disgust, or horror, to enter my mind as I looked at what remained of his body and its contents.
I looked at all that was left of his body with acceptance and compassion; I recognized the striking similarities.
I am no better than you. I am you. I hurt you. We are the same. I see you. I recognize your terror, your suffering: I accept my part in it.
I allowed myself to absorb all that I could of the death that he was subjected to; of the blood, snot, piss, and shit that was sprayed in a perfectly symmetrical radius around his tangled hooves.
I too would’ve sprayed blood, snot, piss, and shit. I too would’ve suffered. I too would’ve thrashed and wailed. I too would’ve been desperate. I too would’ve become exhausted. I too would’ve been helpless.
I too would’ve been vulnerable.
I too would’ve died violently: tortured, terrified, and alone.
A foreign sound returned my consciousness to me.
Disruption in the air, a rock displacing the wind’s river—then the familiar growl of tires; a black dot emerged over the distant rise.
As it approached I perceived that it was gradually slowing; then I could recognize the outfitting of the truck and the lights tucked up into its grille: it was a game warden.
I pushed the barbed-wire down and carefully got myself over it and approached the road. I didn’t need to talk to the warden, but seeing as we were the only ones out in that frozen isolation I figured I’d be congenial. I stood out in the road and positioned myself by his driver-side window as he came to a stop. The window rolled down and I initiated conversation:
“I passed this scene just a few minutes ago. I doubled back to check that the animal was dead and not just hung up there suffering.”
“What were you doing on the other side of the wire,” the warden responded coldly and abruptly.
Fucking “law enforcement.” I knew I shouldn’t have given this shitbag the time of day.
“Excuse me?” I asked, hoping that he’d check himself and relieve me of my instantaneous contempt and primal urge to violence.
“You really shouldn’t be walking around on other people’s property,” he said.
Walking around? Is that your professional assessment of the situation you ignorant, over-blown prick? That I was, “Walking around?”…
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I just stared at him as volatility-of-spirit and pressure swelled in my psyche.
He got out of his truck and looked over to the animal.
“Damn, it really got itself tangled up there,” he observed.
“He did. It was a bad way to die.”
“Welp, is what it is,” he said as he headed towards the carcass with a pair of fencing pliers.
If he hadn’t acted like such a cunt, I would’ve given him a hand. But, the situation being what it was, I remained standing still—glaring at him—before turning around without a word said and returning to my truck. I climbed in the cab and drove away.
“Welp, is what it is,” my mind repeated back, “…is what it is.” “Welp, is what it is…” This continued playing in my head as I cautiously brought the truck back up to a [relatively] safe cruising speed on the frozen road. “Welp, is what it is.”
In one sense, he’d spoken an inarguable truth: It is what it is. But, it’s the emptiness and complacency of the statement that was gnawing at me; its mindlessness.
Why even bother to utter such a useless phrase? Of course it is what it is. Find me a condition, a situation, in which those same empty words could not also be uttered with the same indisputable relevance.
Is that not a convenient, and universal, way to absolve the self of blame? To effectively disregard any situation?
“Welp, is what it is.”
“Welp, is what it is.”
As if to say this buck’s profound suffering was not worth recognition or introspection. His fate was not worth assessing, nor was the situation that had caused it. This animal was merely an inconvenience, an obstruction of the fence-line: a liability.
“Welp, is what it is.”
Sure. I get it. I feel it too. What the fuck are you gonna do? You gonna boycott barbed wire? Every time you witness a wrongful death are you gonna go about fixing the thing that caused it?—find who, or what, was responsible and seek reform?—justice?
No. You can’t. You won’t win; and even if you did, you’ve won only one battle of countless and growing battles. You’ll suffer, you’ll die the same death as the buck, and the world will be no better off for your efforts.
I’m not going to start a fight; I’m no Don Quixote. I’m not going to give my life to fighting battles that can’t be won. But, how ‘bout a little fuckin’ respect? How ‘bout taking a moment to recognize the animal’s life: to say you’re sorry? How ‘bout giving a little of yourself, some compassionate energy to the scene’s toxicity?
And what was that caustic shit about the being on the other side of the wire?
That’s the first fucking thing that comes out of your ignorant, self-empowered mouth? Are you really fucking concerned about me having been all of five-feet across a fabricated border? “Property lines.” Don’t make me laugh.
This land is not under the ownership of some individual just because an arbitrary company—excuse me…“Country”—prints out a “legal document” associating coordinates to one of its fabricated, nine digit numbers.
Property boundaries dissolve based on circumstance—on interest…
…and interest will dissolve too, along with the species that founded the word and the letters that spell it.
[My brain swells, my patience wastes away. I’m fighting what cannot be fought—I’m fighting what is not there: I’m Don Quixote.]
Take a moment to think beyond interested parties, beyond conquerers, beyond [what I’m sure will be] the fleeting Anthropocene.
Do you truly think this inexplicable universe, this inexplicable world, and the inexplicable life within it recognizes the asinine term that you just spewed out of your ignorant mouth?
“…other people’s property.” Listen to your fucking self.
People own nothing. We’ll be dead and gone, we all will be—humanity’s minuscule, laughable, disastrous encounter with existence will not be remembered for one moment after its destruction. If it is, it will be only fleetingly when referred to with mocking disdain as the farce that it was.
That’s what got me. That’s what turned me cold. That’s what caused me to stare into his eyes with cold, silent dispassion—
—he could see the gruesome death as well as I could and the first thing out of his mouth—stated with an unfounded sense of empowerment and bravado—is some bullshit about property boundaries.
I’m done with you. You’re a waste.
[My mind spirals further into its darkness—my focus narrows, my mind works with deliberation, a new scene is created: I am no longer Don Quixote.]
I’d like to see you tangled up in that barbed wire. Let’s see how long you want to talk about property boundaries then—let’s see how long it takes for you to ask for help…
…how long before you ask me to step over that barbed wire—onto those “other people’s property”—to help your sorry ass out?…
…how long before you scream?—how long before you panic?…
…how long before you begin to tremble and cry, before you body begins to spasm?…
…how long before you begin to mourn your own suffering?…
…how long before you vomit in fear?…
…how long before you piss yourself, before you shit your trembling pants?…
…who are you going to call for?…
…who do you miss? Do you want your mom there to hold your hand while pain surges through your nerves?—while you die your violent death?…
…are you going to talk about your wife, your kids—a past lover?…
…are you going to expose regrets?…
…are you going to say you’re sorry for something? What confession are your going to attempt to unburden yourself of? Are you going to beg forgiveness before you die, who are you going to beg forgiveness from?—for what, what did you do?...
…how long before you become quiet—subdued—then whimper for a sip of water?…
…how long until you plead?—until you ask me to take your own gun off of your hip and instruct me how to use it…
…how long until you beg me for your own death?
Don’t forget: you’re flesh and blood too. You’re like me. That imported star on your chest saves you from nothing, elevates you beyond no one—nothing.
—just like me.
My inner dialogue was focused on the warden; but that’s not what this was about. It was not the warden that fueled these dark energies, he was merely the scapegoat, the guy that showed up at the wrong time and said the wrong thing when my brain was already feeling taxed. I was reactive: offense as defense.
As the miles wore on, and my enflamed passions burned down, giving way to the monotony of the road and the steady groan of the diesel engine, some of my balance returned to me—
—my capacity for empathy, for perspective, and objective thought.
Maybe he was the buck: tired, his hands tied—just trying to survive.
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